How to Detect Water Damage
Follow these steps to spot key signs of water damage in and around your home.
You may think a water leak or a busted pipe would be easy to detect and definitely something you'd notice right away. The truth is, sometimes the signs of water damage are hidden - behind your walls, under your floor boards, or even on the exterior of your house. Whether the situation happened an hour ago or a month ago, there are a number of ways to remedy the problem with water damage repair and restoration. First and foremost is finding the source.
What to Look For
Water damage can take on different colors, textures, and even smells, depending on the type of location of the damage. For instance, ceiling water damage is usually easier to spot than water damage in a basement because you will see stains and discoloration on a ceiling, but may not know that a musty odor can be a sign that there is a problem on the lower level of your home. Learn these telltale signs so that you can identify an existing problem and be prepared to spot it in the future.
The most obvious sign that you've got water damage on your hands (or that it will become a bigger problem) is areas of standing or pooling water. These can result from old or malfunctioning appliances including washers, water heaters and toilets. A puddle could also occur from a leaking roof, or from drainage pipes if the water is on the outside of your home.
With ceiling water damage, look for water spots and stains. The area may appear wet or dry and can be a yellow, brown or copper color. Walls may also have bubbling, cracking or peeling paint or wallpaper in addition to staining.
Another type of discoloration to look for is rust, which can occur on water heaters, pipes under sinks and bathroom fixtures. While rust isn't necessarily an indicator of water damage, it can alert you to future problem areas.
Changes in Texture
While flooring can also show discoloration like ceilings and walls do, the main sign of water damage in floors is detected by changes in texture. This is a result of water seeping into the floor boards and areas underneath them. Some common texture variations include:
- Warping - caused by changes in humidity and temperature, resulting in gaps between floorboards or curling at the edges. (Ceilings may also become warped from water damage.)
- Buckling - Occurs in wood floors when one side of the wood becomes detached from the substrate and "tents," or faces upward.
- Sagging/Sinking - You may notice soft spots in hardwood floors due to rotten wood, which feels spongy compared to normal wood. Water can seep into subflooring of all types of flooring material and cause sagging.
- Expansion - Wood and laminate floors will "expand" when they absorb too much water because the material swells and then separates.
Odors caused by mold and mildew could implicate a water damage problem. The smell may come from basements, walls, or other areas where water has been accumulating for a while. Certain drywall materials can act like a sponge and become full of moisture because there is low air circulation. This is the perfect condition for mold to develop, which will eventually result in visual discoloration (usually black spots) and a detectable odor.
Water damage can occur in any part of your home; however, there are some areas that are more high-risk than others. Make a checklist and inspect each area in your home to know where and what to look for when it comes to identifying water damage.
Ceiling water damage can come from a few sources. If the room is on the top story of a home, it could be from a leaky roof caused by rain or melting ice/snow in the winter months. If there is a bathroom above the ceiling with wall damage, it could be from a burst pipe or cracks in the floorboards.
One of the easiest ways to spot water damage is water stains on walls (and ceilings). Make sure to also check around door and window frames. An unusual stain could be a sign of a leaky pipe or drain inside the wall.
There are many things that can cause water damage to floors - overflowing sinks/bathtubs, flooding from faulty appliances and bad pipes. Hiring a water damage restoration company is the best way to pinpoint the exact cause of flooring water damage.
The exterior of your home can also experience water damage. If there isn't proper drainage in the yard or if the gutter spouts don't carry runoff water far away from the house (or if the gutters leak), water can pool next to the house and if left untreated, cause even more damage to your home's structure.
Stains, mold and wet or swollen installation are signs of a leak in the attic. If your roof has cracked, curled, or missing shingles, damaged flashing or signs of wind/rain damage, it could be vulnerable to leaks, which could result in water damage. Weather in colder climates can cause ice dams to develop on the roof, which can leak into the attic when snow and ice melts. Pay attention to possible problem areas including around roof vents and chimneys, the flashing (where the roof connects with the walls) and the valleys (where two roof planes connect) to help prevent water damage.
Check behind refrigerators, washers/dryers, hot water heaters and toilets/sinks for any sign of pooling or leaking water. An appliance or bathroom component (toilet/sink/shower) will most likely cause water damage because of a faulty piece of equipment that isn't easily seen. For example, a cracked hose or loose connection means that these parts may fail soon and could cause leaking in your home - which could lead to water damage.
What to Do If You Find It
If your home has water damage or even if you suspect that you may have a problem, there are professional water damage restoration companies that can help you. First, if you can, locate the problem area. Next, take any necessary steps to prevent any further damage. You may need to soak up standing water on the floor with towels, unplug leaky appliances (dishwasher, washer/dryer, water heater), or shut off your home's water supply.
Then, call your home insurance company to report the damage and contact a licensed professional to begin the cleanup process. You'll receive an assessment from the water damage restoration company and can determine your next steps.
The information and advice contained in this article is intended as a general guide for informational purposes only. It does not take into account your personal situation. While we at Resolve have significant experience and history operating in the home restoration industry and working closely with construction contractors, we are not licensed as a general or specialty contractor. We encourage you to consider the information we’ve provided but urge you not to rely upon it in place of appropriate professional advice from a licensed, experienced construction contractor.